The other day I was rereading an article written by Michael Hawn “Singing Across the Generations: is there Hope?”1 and I came across this statement on page 20, “congregations that are virtually all African American or Latino most often worship together as multigenerational families.” He goes on to say that Anglo-dominated, middle-class congregations from 200-400 in attendance were more likely to offer two or three different patterns of worship (based on musical style). According to Hawn, minority-dominant congregations tend to worship intergenerationally. Hawn does not aim to explain why this data exists, but focuses on strategies for how churches can find unity in their musical worship.
I’m curious as to why. Why are Anglo-dominated congregations more likely to have multiple types of styles of services? The argument that a new, improved, more energetic contemporary service in the name of attracting new or de-church people will bring young families in doesn’t seem to be the answer in the non Anglo-dominated church. Many of our minority-dominated churches are thriving The African American and Hispanic dominated congregations I’m familiar all over the with all over the world aren’t dying…in fact they are growing! I’ve been to several Latin American churches (all intergenerational) that are THRIVING and the gospel is proclaimed and received.
I’ve spent quite a bit of time thinking, praying, strategizing about how to bring musical elements that transcend generations into our worship context. I’m very interested how minority-dominated congregations have managed to avoid the “worship wars” and what I can learn from them.
This post is not designed to find ways to bring multi-ethnic elements into a particular church content. Anyone with Google can find hundred of articles and books on the subject. However, to begin the conversation, I want to discuss some traits I’ve found in minority-dominated churches that might give a few clues as to why these types of churches have chosen to worship intergerationally. I have a few ideas I’d like to share–all anecdotal although observed many times. As always, there are doubtless others.
- Minority-dominated congregations are made of families that VALUE being together. Go to any Latin American country and you’ll see multiple generations living together. They value all; church is no different. Most non-Anglo cultures are ultra family-centric. The “it takes a village” mentality is evident. My observation is women in minority-dominate churches are taking care of many generations of children and raising in a “pack-mentality.” It’s not uncommon to find many Hispanic and African American grandmothers helping raise their own grandchildren.
- Minority-dominated congregations are not afraid of emotionally-driven, passionate times of worship. One of the reasons many Anglo-dominate churches have decided to add “contemporary” services alongside their “traditional” services has been that some feel that traditional worship is stuffy, uninspired, boring, and lacking passion. Those who find comfortable in the predictable liturgy of a traditional service find contemporary services irreverent. Minority-dominate churches just don’t have (my opinion) boring or dispassionate music. It’s always been passionate and will continue to be. Ergo, there is no need to separate services based on style.
- Minority-dominate churches cling to their ethnicity while embracing new. The musical worship in these churches is rooted in who they are historically. While they aren’t afraid to embrace new styles of music, they would never create a worship service that excluded one musical style over another. They know their culture and context.
- Participation comes from all generations in minority-dominate churches. Some of this is due to the size of the church. Many are small churches that need everyone to work together. However, my experience has been that even as these churches have gotten larger, (some of our largest churches in America are African- American and Asian dominated) they have not lost their intergenerational nature. All have a role in worship leadership.
- Choir participation in minority-dominate churches is still HIGH. I can’t think of an African-American dominate church today that doesn’t use a choir. This could be said for many other non-Anglo ethnic groups as well. While authors of the “National Congregations Study” (Chavez and Anderson 1998 and 2008) reported that choirs in all types of churches has decreased from 72.3% in 1998 to 58% in 2008, there is no evidence of decreased participation in minority-dominated congregations in this study. In fact not only does it remain common, it is intentionality intergenerational (not just choirs of members with with white hair)! These churches have figured out how important a choir can still be relevant. In fact many leaders of these churches depend on the energy that the choir brings to musical worship, an energy that cannot be replicated by any other means.
I’m positive I’ve only scratched the surface and there are always exceptions to these comments, but I can’t help but notice that it seems to me that only Anglo-dominated churches (and generally in America) think creating separate worship events which contains only one style of music and liturgy is ultimately healthy for the church. This can lead to generational separation, but more importantly, separate services also prevents the fusion of multi-ethnic musical variety. It is only through cooperation and inclusion of multiple styles that we may paint of picture of how heaven will truly be—all peoples worshiping together in many different ways, but worshiping…together.
1Liturgy, 24 (3), 2009: 19-28.
Intergenerational ministry and specifically intergenerational worship finds its roots throughout the Bible. The themes of unity and being a part of the Body of Christ saturate the whole of scripture, which is at the heart of what it means to be intergenerational. I believe an intergenerational model of worship is truly the only biblical approach. Scripture may not address musical style, specific clothes to wear for worship, or what your worship space should look like specifically, but it does address our need to be generationally diverse, unified, and value all ages and abilities as part of the Body of Christ.
Scripture is infused with words that are compatible with an intergenerational mindset. Words such as: unity, one, humility, Body of Christ, one generation to another, together, one mind, one heart and others saturate scripture and speak of the importance of all ages together, unified.
My favorite passage of scripture that guides my own mind-set related to intergenerational worship comes from 1 Corinthians 12. I’m particularly moved by the syntax of the CEV translation as Paul writes about the Body of Christ.
14 Our bodies don’t have just one part. They have many parts. 15 Suppose a foot says, “I’m not a hand, and so I’m not part of the body.” Wouldn’t the foot still belong to the body? 16 Or suppose an ear says, “I’m not an eye, and so I’m not part of the body.” Wouldn’t the ear still belong to the body? 17 If our bodies were only an eye, we couldn’t hear a thing. And if they were only an ear, we couldn’t smell a thing. 18 But God has put all parts of our body together in the way that he decided is best. 19 A body isn’t really a body, unless there is more than one part. 20 It takes many parts to make a single body. 21 That’s why the eyes cannot say they don’t need the hands. That’s also why the head cannot say it doesn’t need the feet. 22 In fact, we cannot get along without the parts of the body that seem to be the weakest….
24 put our bodies together in such a way that even the parts that seem the least important are valuable. 25 He did this to make all parts of the body work together smoothly, with each part caring about the others. 26 If one part of our body hurts, we hurt all over. If one part of our body is honored, the whole body will be happy. 27 Together you are the body of Christ. Each one of you is part of his body. 1 Corinthians 12:14-22; 24-27 (CEV)
We were made to live in unity, but are uniquely made. Consider that for a moment. Each of us, with our God-given unique talents and gifts, were made to offer those gifts for the benefit of the whole body of Christ. No one is excluded! All have a place. One of the primary goals of intergenerational worship ministry is to find a place for each person who has felt the call of God to serve. This means all ages, all ability levels, together. The stronger helping the weak and the weak learning from the strong.